The Theosophical Society

I wanted some quietness, I decided to spend the Saturday afternoon in the Theosophical Society. I went with my sketch book, water colors and color pencils. I wanted to spend most of the time watching the trees, the foliage of the trees, the leaves getting tossed by sea breeze.

There weren’t too many visitors that afternoon, and those who stay there, or come to work are not intrusive. They are familiar with me, and let me wander about. I go dangerously close to the Adyar river, that is guarded by thorny brambles; I sit around old buildings that breathe with ghosts of luminaries like Annie Besant and Rabindranath  Tagore. I went to Blavatsky bungalow and sat on the porch that overlooked the 450 year old banyan tree . The thick undergrowth of the tree gave an underwater ambiance. I sat for a very long time listening to the birds, to the rustle of leaves.

Later  I walked toward the Adyar River and stopped to complete quick water colours. I finished them in ten minutes, left them on the grass to dry as I explored closer to the river. There was no access to the river from where I went.

I started sketching the post office building in colour pencil.There were too many details to complete, and it was getting dark and the insects and mosquitoes were out. I quickly gave a water wash to the background, and completed the painting after I came home.

As The Tree Marches

The sun played hide and seek the afternoon I visited the Theosophical Society . The rains had washed clean the leaves and the branches were heavy with moisture. I was glad for the few hours of sunshine, the rich light that filtered through the foliage  appeared surrealistic.

During my previous visit to the Society I caught a glimpse of Blavatsky Bungalow through the the dense spread of the large banyan tree.  During this visit I did not even know that I was moving towards the bungalow because I came upon it from the other side. I found an old building impressive with tall pillars, doors painted blue , and light bounced off the lime washed walls.  

I walked around the building and suddenly came upon this sight and only then did I know that this was the Blavatsky Bungalow I saw from the other side of the banyan tree.

This building is one of the oldest in the Society, I came across a plaque that stated that Rabindranath Tagore stayed in the bungalow in the year 1934. The rooms were locked and there was no one anywhere close to the building. I sat on the cool portico and sketched. I sat in silence drenched by the prism of light and thought of the silent march of the banyan tree close and closer to the building . On the left flowed the Adyar river, the path leading to the river covered with brambles and weeds.

The House By The River

George Arundale (1878-1945) was the president of the Theosophical Society, Adyar. He was married to Rukmini Devi who was a pathfinder in the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.

There is a house in the Theosophical society named after Arundale, it was probably here that the celebrity couple who made history in their own fields, lived. It is a beautiful old house shaded by trees, not very far from the Adyar river. The river at the back yard, the sea not too far might have offered a rich environment for creativity to blossom. It might have been the place where dreams were born,  the Arundales have left behind a world class academy for performing arts and music in Kalakshetra.

I did the sketch of the Arundale house on a brick red tinted paper, mainly to capture the old world look of the place.

I was captivated by this arch of creepers outside a fairly new building that is the administrative block of the Society. I have used green tinted paper to minimise work on creepers and plants.

The Banyan Tree

The word ‘vaatsalya’ in Sanskrit means love, affection, tenderness, fondness; this word is used to describe a mother’s love for her child. The banyan tree embraces, like a mother with hundred arms, her brood of children. It wrapped me into this embrace of life.

The banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) at The Theosophical Society in  Chennai, spreads across 60,000 square area and is some 450 years old. Growing on the banks of the Adyar river, not too far from where  the river drains into the Bay of Bengal, this banyan tree has had its tryst with history. In the Blavatsky bungalow that is nearly strangled by the colony of roots of this tree, stayed Rabindranath Tagore; the  tree has extended its hospitality to several other luminaries too, like J Krishnamurti, Annie Besant and Maria Montessori.

The tree with its immense settlement of aerial roots and its extensive green canopy has a presence that has to be experienced. The main tree was uprooted by gale in 1989 and efforts made to root it back failed. There is a hollow now where there was once this immense trunk. The aerial roots that have come from the mother tree, have put out branches and spread the canopy around. This is a clonal colony carrying  memories of the mother tree in their fibers of existence.

There are several banyan trees in The Theosophical Society. I spent two afternoons sketching some of the trees. Here is one of them, that I have drawn using 9 B lead pencil. 

This is the old tree I have written about. I used tinted papers and soft pastels for these two sketches.

I used oil pastels on tinted papers for these two paintings.

I have used the negative space to suggest the undergrowth of ferns in this painting.


   I am an Urban Sketcher

Vasant Vihar

It was a warm Saturday afternoon, a typical September day with clouds tucked high in the inky sky and dragon flies swooping near the grass.  I sat on the cool lawn in Vasant Vihar (Krishnamurti Foundation)and began sketching the cottage called ‘Banyan’ that was shrouded in thick vegetation of palms, laburnum trees and trumpet vine whose flowers secreted the afternoon light in their petals.  The sun played so beautifully on the cottage and I captured the light in a quick water colour wash.

As I finished my water colour  Kalpana ,  fellow urban sketcher, joined me on the cool lawn. Both of us drew the main building that houses the library and office.

There is a very dense cover  of trees, creepers and ferns opposite the main building. I worked on a tinted paper with crayons to capture the interplay of greens and browns with light and darkness. I did not worry about the details and focussed on forms emerging out of tones of colours. 

The crape mrytle trees were in full bloom in Vasant Vihar. This branch was laden with a cluster of mauve blooms. 

  I am an Urban Sketcher 

An Afternoon With My Friend

I went to the Krishnamurti Foundation with my dear friend Vaani. We sat on the lawn warmed by the afternoon sun. We spoke a lot, shared so much sitting on the emerald carpet of prickly grass and I was  happy to sketch in my friend’s  company. Just as I completed these three drawings,  the sprinklers hidden under the grass got activated and we just missed getting drenched.

We walked in the garden, stopped to look at the flowers and bugs wearing fancy  coloured coats. We sat on a stone seat and I completed a quick water colour of the tree draped by creepers and flanked by pink croton plants.

  I am Urban Sketcher

Stone’s Throw

Krishnamurti Foundation of India (KFI) at Vasanta Vihar situated on a 6 1/2 acre land area is thickly covered with trees. The building that houses the library, archives, office was once where Jiddu Krishnmurti stayed on his visits to Chennai.

KFI is just a five minute walk from my workplace. I go there after my work on certain days to read at the library. This time I went midmorning when the August day is at its glorious best, a little wet with the night’s rain, and bowls of sunlight eagerly pouring on damp grass and leaves. I sat at the edge of the lawn in front of the KFI building and sketched. The bougainvillea with its spray of magenta flowers was distracting, so were the beetles that climbed up my legs. Since it was the middle of my work day I stayed for only half hour and completed two pencil sketches, I  painted one of the pictures later.

Despite being in the heart of the city , the quietness of the place is impenetrable because of the wild green cover at KFI. At certain places where it is heavily wooded it remains dark.

But this pot of allamanda plant was soaked in sunshine.

 I am an Urban Sketcher

While I Waited

I had been to my son’s college to complete certain formalities of admission. I filled a form, and was asked to wait. There were a few others waiting as well. I found these two people interesting to study and paint.

There was a Reading Room close to where I waited. I found these two students absorbed in what they were doing.

As I entered the college I found this young man texting a message from his mobile phone. After completing my work, when I got ready to leave, an hour later, he was still there reclining on his car, and texting some message!

And I wasn’t done with waiting . At a junction my car was held up for nearly five minutes in the traffic. 

Summer Flowers

The Chennai Metro Rail has taken over a part of a park in my neighbourhood for construction related work. The rest of the park has been low on maintenance. Regardless, under a large raintree between a crop of rocks where a fountain flows I saw this glorious cluster of cosmos, wild asters and sunflowers.  

I am an Urban Sketcher

The Madras Literary Society

On Saturday afternoon I visited the Madras Literary Society. The day was gloriously sunny to spend inside the library. Soon after I found the books I wanted, I sat outside the old building listening to the birds call out sultrily to each other. The traffic of College Road seemed distant, the offices in the DPI were closing down for the weekend. I made several quick sketches of the building and marked one in particular to develop into a watercolour.  I took a few photographs to aid me catch the sun as it soaked the building. Here is the sundrenched window of the library.

I am an urban sketcher